The Balloonist’s Prayer
“May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”
I used to think the best part of ballooning was watching balloons taking off, or even better….feeling them take off with me inside. Yes, both of those things are still a big thrill and I think will always be for me. It occurred to me today that there could be something better, though.
I grew up seeing balloons float over our county, but never got to ride in one. When I moved back to Statesville, I got involved with the Chamber of Commerce. It was through the Chamber that I met my friend Debbie Hartman (now Debbie Swing), I think at a Business After Hours event. (Come to think of it, I think that was the time she told me she would teach me how to play golf. It still hasn’t happened. But that’s OK. We found better things to do!)
Debbie and I both volunteered to crew at the local balloon festival that year, and it was then we both got our first ride. I think we were probably balloonists before we ever set foot in a balloon….we caught the bug quickly. Personally I think I caught it while watching balloons float over North Iredell High School in the late 70s when we were playing broom hockey at 8 a.m. in the morning. (Yes broom hockey. The best sport ever. Don’t knock it if you have never played. Or even if you have. I think it was the only PE activity I ever enjoyed in my first 12 years of school.)
Anyway, back to the ballooning bug. Debbie and I began to jump in any time would mention any activity to us that was balloon related. It was a great to have a friend as passionate about it as I was. I know the introvert in me would not have gone to as many events had she not been willing to go with me. So thus started our ballooning “career.”
|The teacher and the student|
I have never wanted to be a pilot. They have to pay attention to a lot of things, and with my ADHD mind, the thought terrifies me. I do have that ADHD ability to hyper-focus, so I am sure if I put my mind to it I could do it, but the stress it would put me under would take away the fun for me, I think. So I am content to hang out with ballooning people. To promote the sport as much as I can. To do the administrative and behind-the-scene things I am best at. And to ride any time anyone lets me in the basket.
Debbie has never felt that way. From the start, she wanted to be a pilot. She always was more serious about it than me. She always listened a bit harder, tried to pick up information. Everything moves quickly with ballooning, and while that makes it very fun on one level, it is sometimes difficult to learn as you crew for different pilots. Each does things differently. Most also do things automatically. And when they are flying, they are often in flying mode….not teaching mode. Since some of us need to fully understand the whys to learn the process well, the way to cope for many of us (OK, me) is to put yourself on autopilot and just do as the pilot says. Nothing more, nothing less. Do that and usually no one gets hurt! (Or yelled at. Pilots can be vocal when they are concerned In other words, when you do something stupid.)
So time went by and life got in the way, and Debbie had almost given up her dream of flying. When our friends the Morlocks decided to sell their balloon last year, she was able to buy it. That was one dream coming true, but still…..she had to learn how to fly it.
|Debbie and Tommy listen intently|
Today Debbie got her first flying lesson. Our friend Marc Klinger stepped up and offered to teach her. It’s a big commitment, for him and for her. Thankfully for us all, balloon pilots are not created overnight. It takes many, many hours of training.
I can’t tell you how much fun it was to watch Debbie’s first lesson. Seeing the combination of nervousness and excitement. Watching her intently listen to Marc. Seeing her husband Tommy listen just as intently as he prepares to partner with her as a very able crew chief. Watching them make mental checklists of all of the things they need to do, of all the things they need to put on their own checklist (which Marc will not give them….he will make them come up with it themselves as part of the training.)
|And it is a lift off!|
During the past couple of years I have also seen my friends Daniel, Damien and Mike train to be pilots. Now Debbie begins. What occurred to me today….while I love watching and riding, seeing the dreams of my friends come true is even better. I got to see Daniel fly his balloon, lovingly restored by him, for the first time. I got to see Debbie fly hers for the first time today. About six months after purchased. I’m sure I will be around a lot as she trains, taking a million pictures. I will be there when she solos for the first time. I also plan to be there as 13-year old Duncan Dunavent trains and takes his first solo flight. Really….it will make you weep. It’s a tough road, and to see them get through each obstacle and test is simply amazing. It is a privilege to watch.
|Future pilot Duncan|
What’s even better is when you see people like Marc Klinger and Drew Egerton train others to become pilots. I think it takes nerves of steel at times, but they are patient and thoughtful and compassionate as they do it. It’s time consuming, and at times frustrating, but our sport will not continue without such generosity. Other pilots will lend a hand along the way, I know. Before Debbie finishes, I can guarantee she will fly with several seasoned pilots. Each will teach her something different. That is how you learn best. They will pass it on not only because they are generous, but because they love this sport. And they not only want people flying, they want people flying safely.
|A dream in flight|
I have been able to experienced a lot already, but I have a lot of great ballooning moments ahead, I think. It’s exciting to see it all evolve. I can’t wait to ride with each and every one of these new pilots (and quite a few more advanced pilots I know I haven’t ridden with yet!) Being a good pilot requires not just knowledge, but the ability to know when to apply it. It requires you to think on your feet, be alert to what is over and under, in front and in back, how to get out of tight spots, be a superstar of public relations (some folks get a bit cranky when you land on their property), be a weather and wind expert, and be very cool under intense pressure. You are floating in the sky in a wicker basket with only the direction of the wind to steer. And you’re making dreams come true. Your own, those that watch you, and those that are fortunate to ride.
So anyway, to both balloonists and non-balloonists, I say this. Dream dreams. Big dreams. Tell your friends and family so they can share them with you and see them come true. Because really, it is such a great joy and a privilege to see dreams become reality. And as you talk about it, you may find a few fairy god-people out there that will help make it happen.
The greatest part about seeing dreams come true? It reminds you that we don’t dream enough, and that’s a downright shame. I’ve decided my dream list has become too short and needs to be extended. I will work on that. Join me!